Posts belonging to Category Tempranillo



the Trouble with Rioja Wines

tBoW goes on curmudgeonly jag! Two blogs in a row rip into popular international wines!! What’s next? Napa?

Lettie Teague is the wine writer for the Wall Street Journal. She covers a wide range of wines from pricey (Burgundies) to cheapos to odd regions and the ones wine snobs like to read about. I would link to her columns BUT without a subscription the columns are out of reach in 24 hours (or so).

Teague’s Jan 13 column covered Rioja wines: “Pour on the Oak: Rioja’s Reliably Aged Reds.” Immediately I recalled a Rioja tasted this New Year’s Eve party…2007 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904. Had the big reviews from Suckling and Parker PLUS the big scores in the high 90s [Lettie’s WSJ image adjacent…nice, no?]

A couple of prelim caveats: In the first, the 100 point range for scoring wines is (how can I say this without scrinching faces) frivolous. Find me a wine below 85 points and I will tell you where to buy the 2014 Cune Crianza which is a great bargain at $12. When scores less than 85 are not assigned then the scale is actually 15 points. In the second, avoid reviewers who are paid to sell wines and assign the scores. Better to find a local wine shop with staff that actually drink the stuff. Let him or her get to know what you like and your preferred price point so they can tell you what to buy. One more point…what is the difference between a 96 and 97 point wine? Better yet what could possibly be the difference.

The New Years lineup was brave with many fine bottles lining the bar. Unfortunately, only one bottle was up to the task of pleasing palates. Different wines fell short for different reasons. The 2009 Sweeney Canyon Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara was well made. Our palates have changed since. We (and I am speaking for the smarty pants tasters) no longer favor Central Coast syrupy (to us) beety flavored wines. The two recent vintage Bourgognes were soft and fruity without much stuffing. The winner was opened and placed before the lumpen before the cogoscenti arrived so its remains lay dying in the glasses of the “social tasters” [man, tBoW a real S-N-O-B].

2007 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904, $50: The Handle Man brought this with high hopes shared all round. Plenty fruit. Beautiful robe (taster talk for color, weight, luminosity). And big and tannic even after trying again and again for a couple of hours. TOO MUCH OAK. As Teague points out Gran Reserva signifies the wine spent FIVE YEARS in barrel. So this wine was bottled no sooner than 2012 and may have spent even longer in barrel [ed. upon reading about it turns out the wine was bottled after 4 years].

What to make of this? All were disappointed with how the wines we brought by the cognoscenti showed. After ten years we really expected the La Rioja Alta would be more accessible. What’s the deal? TOO MUCH OAK. tBoW favors natural wines made without oak. Or at least wines stored (“aged”) in neutral oak barrels which have been used more than five years and have lost all the oak flavors imparted by new barrels.

Let’s be clear. We hate oaked wines. We are not even sure why the “aged in new oak” style began or where it came from. Spain has institutionalized aging wines in oak to the extent of rewarding wines aged longest in oak with the “highest” rating of Gran Reserva which translates roughly to Grand Poobah of Wines. What is truly worth pondering is how a nation elected to value the use and abuse of oak in making (finishing) wine over factors that are more highly valued elsewhere; e.g., not using oak, steel fermentation, and using natural yeasts or even w-a-i-t-i-n-g for fermentation to spontaneously erupt.

Is there something to be said about the culture? tBoW speculates in his darkest mind that this system was spawned by the fascista values of Generalissimo Franco. Prove me wrong.

The CVNE 2014 Crianza – Crianza means aged no more than two years in barrel which is about 18 mos too long. This particular bottle is a go-to tBoW value perfect for Thanksgiving when the food multiplex is the most challenging to match. And at $14 – we have bought for $10 – it is probably the perfect one-size-fits-all wine for Turkey Day.

tBoW and fam visited La Guardia and Alta Rioja way back before he owned a digital camera. The hilltop village of LA Guardia was a highlight. The yougn ‘uns got a thrill when the “bulls” ran thru the streets. Does this happen every weekend? I was able to find a video of the running of the COWS which captures the thrill we all shared. The streets are narrow and the risks are meager. This ain’t no Pamplona. This was a disco. The only where gouging might take place would be lunch or diner with wine. Although that did not occur.

Wine Travel Is So Easy!!

Argentina! Italy! Canada? Portugal and Spain?!

Knowing how to travel is simple. A great getaway is built on two pillars: castle and wine regions. If you want to save money yet still get the feeling of  what it is like to visit a wine region you can attend a well planned tasting. The local primo wine shop – Woodland Hills Wine Company – is really good at putting on tastings.

The November 15 2017 Las Joyas wine tasting featured seven winemakers from Spain and Portugal. Pause a moment. Imagine you are a winemaker from a little beach town in northern Portugal. You and your wife decide a national tour could be fun! You join a mini barnstorm tour and see the USA while chatting up strangers about the wine you make. Not a bad idea for a Fall activity. Like driving across country in a VW van with dogs and strangers.

Once WHWC decided it would become a tour stop they had to find a hosting restaurant. The Peasant Bistro is conveniently located two blocks from WHWC. The little food plates were ideal for the tintos and blancas…crab cakes, meatballs in red sauce, and other stuff I forgot already. All delicious without distracting from the wines. And the wines were good.

A Few Winemakers We Kept Pretty Good Notes About. Alberto Orte is the winemaker for La Antigua which produces ~2,200 cases annually. He is also a partner for Ole Imports which represents many of the wines at the tasting. In California production this small is almost a hobby. We bought the 2008 Clasico made from 40 to 80 year old vines. Head cut gnarly stumps. 60% Garnacha (tBoW’s favorite Spanish red grape. Tempranillo is fruity and fussy. Vines grown in limestone at 700 meters which is high for Rioja. Aged in neutral oak. No new oak and we could taste that. Organic and natural.

Leirana Finca Genoveva is in Galicia which is furthest west on the coast. Rodri and Ari are winemaking love birds. They showed three white wines: two albarinos, and one made from Meano Sanxenxo. One of the pleasures of wine travel and tasting is getting to try something unusual like wine made from the Meano Sanxenxo grape. Not sure I would learn anymore from being there than Albarino is not just that. Ari showed me fotos of the eight foot tall vines! The cordons start around seven feet. Their total production is…drum roll please…300 cases! Organic, natural wines aged in old oak – neutral. Thank goodness these two are sufficiently impoverished to not be able to afford new oak. We hate new oak.
There were more wines including those from the Azores [above foto of vines growing below volcanic Mt Pico]. All in all a lovely getaway from LA. Good job Daniel. Here’s an audio treat that goes with Alabarino from In Deep.

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Est arrivé Fall mais oui poo poo? Vive le bezbol!!

boobly in zee zummer zo nize

boobly in zee zummer zo nize

October brings seasonal changes everywhere except California and Florida. The autumn leaves turn colors. The days dwindle down. September. November.

October doesn’t rhyme. Here in sunny SoCal days cool off with daily highs in the 80s. You have to take a jacket if dining in Culver City, the cultural capitol of West LA. The A-Frame is the hot spot. A little bit of Portland right here in LA.

Roy Choi takes over a custom built Der Wienerschnitzel in an A frame building. Food comes out in small plates rat-a-tat-tat just like with his food truck. And the wine list is good enough. We ordered the same rose reviewed reicheer last week! UCLAns and Westside millenials packed the bar. With each 30 minutes the looks got hookier. Youth. A-frameWEBThanks to Kevin Eats blog where we got the foto.

Most importantly, baseball playoffs c’est arrivé. tBoW loves championship baseball. The postseason really makes the regular season look more boring than we already know it is. Very much like wines rated on the 100 point scale and wines that simply taste great. The ocean of Parkerized wines hardly makes an impact. But the emergence of unique fetishes like “natural wines” or wines from Mt. Etna or the small towns north of Barolo and Barbaresco… this is championship wine imbibing.

Fine wines we have been tasting are listed below.

allegracore11WEB 2010 Romeo del Castello Etna Rosso Allegracore $23: Old World Cab wine from Mt Etna showed volcanic ash on the perimeter of the mouth, translucent robe, balanced, dignified composure. So Euro. Had this next to unnamed [ed. that would be mean] local Cabernet Sauvignon grown and made in the ‘Bu. The new World/Old World comps are obvious. The New World Cab was only five years old with plenty of fruit and sour overtones. Function of the inexperienced winemaker? Fruit is good enough to make decent wine. Needs a better winemaker. This Old World wine from Mt Etna contineus a string of wonderful wines from the Sicilian volcano. 14%

touraine13WEB2013 Clos Roche Blanche Touraine $20: Old vine Sauvignon Blanc from a vineyard under control of the same family since the late 19th century. Small quantities made with miniscule intervention [ed. dat wooden be natch’l now woodid?]. The winemakers are chemists come to wine. How scientists look at terroir: “Using herbicide forces the vines’ roots to the surface, in which they can effectively grow in the 8 to 10 centimeters of fertile soil that you find anywhere in the world. This isn’t terroir. To get to the terroir you need to go deeper.” Rare bottles nearly extinguished brought back to life with care and dedication… spotty leafed newt? Compromise-driven Republican lawmaker? Water responsible farmers in Central Valley? Turf lawns in Beverly Hills? Maybe not that rare. Grassy hints, yellow gold color as in not pale, firm body. Could play wide receiver for Trojans. 13%

montebro-crianza10WEB2010 Montebro Priorat Crianza $17: By the glass at Peddlers Wine Bistro, local wine bar and dining spot which always pours something unexpected. Like this juicy, light to middle weight Spanish red. U20 winner. 13%

More good news. Jen Carter has relocated to Topanga’s Canyon Bistro. The wine list already shows her fresh approach to value and curiously wonderful wine selections. The food and the setting have always been worth a trip. So goodbye Saddle Peak, hello Canyon B!

Banality Gets an Upgrade: the Costco Illusion

the ancient mystical Rioja Alavesa

the ancient mystical Rioja Alavesa

Amazingly, there are respectable wine writers who insist the selection of wines at Costco are worthy of your attention. That would include tBoW. You may consider this strange since everyone knows Costco is the king of ordinary and middle-of-the-road in all things from sandwich bags to 60 inch TVs to fancy watches and diamond tennis bracelets… and First Growth Bordeaux; except the guy who owns the wine blog devoted to Costco wines. It is true the Costco wine buyer has steadily “raised her consciousness” [ed. as we used to say “back in the day”]. She has been profiled on CNBC as the most influential wine buyer in the business. But now… she and her staff of 20 are buying the kinds of wines that even tBoW and other discerning wine drinkers might be tempted to buy. We did. We were amazed… (more…)

Saddle Peak Showcase: Martian Ranch & Vineyard

mars_planetWEBSeated under the moosehead with the French doors open to the early evening air we sat in wicker chairs that are never this comfy anywhere else. Our love affair with Saddle Peak Lodge in Calabasas got even steamier this week. Somm Jen Carter presented her first small winery Winemaker Dinner featuring Martian Ranch & Winery of Los Alamos. The invite said the “owner, operator, winemaker and sommelier would be available to educate and entertain.” Two out of four is good enough for us especially when that duo includes Ms. Carter and winemaker Mike Roth. Somm Jen, GM Bobby Caravella and chef Chris Kurek have turned the onetime staid and spotty Saddlepeak Lodge into our favorite dining venue in the city. Saddlepeak has always had the space-based charm with the Water Buffalo and other icons of taxidermy everywhere which fortunately do not count towards the fire department occupancy limit. Now it has tons of personal charm that shows on the scorecard. (more…)